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Amazon Looks To Expand Robot Delivery Research, Sparking Worry For Hundreds Of Thousands Of Delivery Drivers
Amazon vans line up at a distribution center to pick up packages for delivery on Amazon Prime Day, July 16, 2019, in Orlando, Florida.
Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

On Thursday, Amazon announced plans to build autonomous robot delivery systems in a blog post titled, “Amazon launches a new Development Center in Helsinki to support Amazon Scout,” a move that will add further concern for the hundreds of thousands of workers in the delivery sector.

“Amazon has announced the creation of a new Amazon Scout Development Center in Helsinki, Finland focused on autonomous delivery technology,” Amazon stated. “The new team will consist of over two dozen engineers in Helsinki to start, and will be dedicated to research and development for Amazon Scout, Amazon’s fully electric autonomous delivery service that currently operates in the U.S.”

Amazon described its Scout devices as “inherently safe,” which are “the size of a small cooler” and “roll along sidewalks at a walking pace.”

“Amazon Scout currently delivers packages to customers in four locations across the U.S.,” the post continued. “The team in Helsinki will work closely with the Amazon Scout research and development labs in Seattle, U.S. and teams in Cambridge, U.K and Tübingen, Germany to develop 3D software to simulate the complexity of real life and ensure Scout can safely navigate around obstacles while making deliveries.”

“We invest in our local communities by creating new jobs, building philanthropic partnerships, and reducing the impact of climate change on future generations by building a sustainable business,” Amazon claimed. “From the local jobs we bring, to the local people we employ, train, and upskill — our business is made up of people from the communities in which we operate. Across Europe, Amazon is creating thousands of quality jobs and investing billions in local economies. We created 20,000 jobs in 2020, growing our employee population to more than 135,000 across 15 European countries.”

Despite Amazon’s boast of job creation, however, a real concern here is that autonomous robot delivery systems could signal the future replacement of hundreds of thousands of in-person delivery jobs.

Another part of this strategy appears to include the use of autonomous trucking services, known as PlusDrive. As Forbes reported days ago, “Amazon has contracted to purchase at least 1,000 Plus Retrofit units for its delivery fleet in a deal worth up to $150 million.”

These systems are designed to “retrofit existing trucks with next-generation levels of autonomy.” While these vehicles will still require a human driver, it is not unreasonable to assume that the long-term goal could be fully-automated delivery truck systems.

The move toward automation is certainly not limited to the delivery space. Last month, for example, TechCrunch reported that robotic beverage maker, Botrista, raised $10 million in Series A funding.

The company’s premier product is the simply named Drinkbot (Botrista, it seems, is enough pun name to go around),” TechCrunch reported. “The latest version of the robotic drink mixing system features a refrigerated base with up to eight ingredients, a touchscreen control panel and 14 separate nozzles for dispensing the mixed beverages. The entire process runs around 20 seconds.”

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